Bakwit School 7 cleared of charges, released

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AFTER almost three months in detention, two teachers, three adult Lumad students and two Lumad elders were set free on Friday, May 14, 2021.

The Davao del Norte Provincial Prosecutor issued a release order as it dismissed the complaints for kidnapping and serious illegal detention, human trafficking and child abuse for lack of evidence and lack of probable cause.

Even if evidence was found against them, the prosecutors said the cases fall outside the jurisdiction of their office as the alleged crimes happened in Cebu City.

Chad Errol Booc, Roshelle Mae Porcadilla, Segundo Lagatos Melong, Benito Dalim Bay-ao, Moddie Langayed Mansimoy-at, Esmelito Oribawan and Jomar Benag, also called the Bakwit School 7, were released at around 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Lawyer King Anthony Perez, spokesperson of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) Cebu chapter, went to the Regional Special Operations Group 7 at around 9 a.m. Friday to present a copy of the resolution from the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor (OPP) in Davao del Norte.

All seven were brought from their separate detention cells to the Regional Medical and Dental Unit for medical check-up as part of the release process.

They were not immediately released, however.

Police Brigadier General Ronnie Montejo, Central Visayas Police Regional Office (PRO 7) director, said he was willing to abide by a court order, but wanted to wait for a copy of the resolution from the OPP. No court order is forthcoming as the case has not been filed in court.

Montejo also said he will ask their legal division to review the case.

Perez, for his part, said they might file countercharges against the police. But the NUPL has yet to discuss this with their clients.

Only Porcadilla is not represented by the NUPL and the Visayas Community Law Center.

In a statement, NUPL Cebu said the dismissal of the complaints against the Bakwit School 7 validates their “firm assertion that the persistent red-tagging efforts on Lumad schools by the State forces are baseless and unfounded.”

Circumstances

The term Lumad refers to indigenous peoples while bakwit is a Visayan term for evacuees.

The Bakwit School 7 were arrested on Feb. 15 for supposedly kidnapping Lumad minors from Talaingod, Davao del Norte and detaining them at a retreat house of the Societas Verbi Divini Philippines Southern Province in the University of San Carlos (USC) Talamban Campus in Cebu City.

In an operation that drew criticisms, police raided the retreat house and rounded up 26 people, including the Bakwit School 7.

Police said they acted on the complaint of six parents who had sought the assistance of the Municipal Social Welfare and Services in Talaingod in locating their alleged missing children.

One of the parents, who refused to be named, claimed that a group took their children from their community so they could continue with their education in Davao City, after the Department of Education ordered the closure of 55 Lumad schools in Davao Region in 2019.

The complainants said they learned that their children were in Cebu City only in January 2021, when one of the minors returned home.

USC, which hosted the delegation of 42 students accompanied by five teachers and three community elders, had denied the charges and said the children were “nurtured, cared for and treated with their best interest in mind.”

The Commission on Social Advocacies of the Archdiocese of Cebu said the Lumad minors were allowed to study in a Bakwit School in Cebu based on a 2019 agreement. The Bakwit School Program is an initiative of non-government organization Save Our Schools Network.

Resolution

In a resolution dated May 5, 2021, Davao del Norte prosecutors noted that the complainants failed to identify the persons who took the minors from Talaingod and allegedly kept them at the SVD retreat house.

“As it stands, it is impossible to connect any of the arrested respondents to the alleged offense of kidnapping. Equally unsupported is the allegation that such deprivation of liberty started at Talaingod, Davao del Norte,” the resolution stated.

In dismissing the complaint for trafficking in persons, the prosecutors said no witness has been able to name the perpetrators who transported the children from Talaingod to Cebu City.

“Absent evidence of any act of trafficking that had been committed within Talaingod or anywhere within Davao del Norte, it appears that there is also insufficient evidence to support probable cause for the filing of an informal of human trafficking within the jurisdiction of this office,” the resolution said.

On the child abuse charge, the prosecutors said not one of the arrested respondents were named as the ones who allegedly educated the children on communist ideologies. Besides, the alleged crime happened in Cebu City, which is outside their jurisdiction.

The resolution was prepared by Davao del Norte Assistant Provincial Prosecutors Mark Cyrus Uno and Julius Espina, and Prosecution Attorneys Grazielynne Corpuz and James Noel Morente. It was approved by Provincial Prosecutor Norman Solis. (WBS / AYB)

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